Over the last decade or so, Christian leaders in Western world have become acutely aware of the decline of the Christian faith in its former centers of power and influence. The numbers show a loss of roughly 5000 Christians every single day. Alex McManus has summed up the irony of this retreat aptly: “The Western world has lost its faith in the shadows of church steeples.” In response to this reality scholars, writers, and activists such as Lesslie Newbigin, Alan and Debra Hirsch, Michael Frost, Neil Cole, Donald Guder, and Reggie McNeil have helped to inspire and describe a paradigm shift in ecclesiology.
Missional church refers to a broad and loosely unified movement committed to recapturing the apostolic ethos of the New Testament era Church. The essence of missional is the recognition of the need of the Christ following movement to reengage the world with the Gospel by embodying a “go” and “sent” mentality. Missional churches come in all shapes and expressions: liturgical, organic, house church, multi-site, traditional, etc. But they share a commitment to incarnate the Gospel among those currently outside of the Christ following movement instead of waiting for such persons to be attracted to existing communities. The launching of new faith communities is at the forefront of the missional movement.
Here are five emphases common to those self-identified with missional:
Church as the Sent People of God
Missional churches seek to cultivate an apostolic DNA of “go” rather than “come.” The focus of discipleship is the mission of God. Christ followers see themselves as ambassadors or equippers of those engaged in mission. Discipleship is not separated from mission. In fact, evangelism and mission are construed as the shared values rather than the spiritual gifts of a select few.
The World as the Locus of Ministry
Missional churches consciously embody an “outside of the four walls of the church” posture. Ministry is practiced in the neighborhood rather than on the campus. Missional churches adopt local schools, feed the hungry, hold bible studies in public places, and other practices that present a visible witness to a watching world.
Churches as Mission Outposts
Missional churches see themselves as outposts on the frontier between heaven and hell rather than as safe refuges from the world. Communities of faith exist as training and equipping bodies that gather for worship in preparation for doing God’s work in the world. Missional churches avoid a siege or bunker mentality. Communities of faith exist in and for the sake of the world.
Pastor as Resident Missiologist
In missional churches, pastors see themselves primarily as the resident missiologists. They eschew old understandings of the pastor as chaplain, resident theologian, or ceo. Such identities represent artifacts from the past. Instead, missional pastors focus on equipping all Christ followers to engage fully in God’s mission in the world. They empower the people of God for service in the world.
New Measures for Evaluating Success
In the past, communities of faith judged vibrancy and health by means of maintaining membership rolls, tracking average attendance in worship services and Sunday school, and counting baptisms and confessions of faith. In the emerging missional context, what counts is the impact that a community has on the world around it—e.g., how well have we eradicated hunger among children in the local elementary school, how much of our budget is spend on the community, how many members do we lose to new church plants and other missional projects?
To what extent has your community of faith been impacted by the missional movement?